Community college intermediaries can support youth apprenticeship and work-based learning

Successive rounds of federal funding have set ApprenticeshipNH on the path to success as an intermediary in construction as well as nontraditional apprenticeship occupations. Additional investments will be needed to sustain it in the future.
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Feb. 1, 2023

Community colleges haven’t traditionally had a large role in building trades apprenticeships, where unions and industry associations typically serve as a coordinator or intermediary. Even so, given their relationships with businesses and K-12 systems, and their built-in ability to offer for-credit coursework, community colleges have huge potential as apprenticeship intermediaries for youth-focused programs in the building trades.

Apprenticeship intermediaries cut through the complexity of developing and delivering apprenticeships by taking on some of the tasks that an employer would perform if it ran a program all by itself. Many organizations can serve as apprenticeship intermediaries, and as interest in apprenticeship has grown, some community colleges and systems have taken on the role, coordinating the various stakeholders involved in apprenticeship to help programs get bigger, faster.

The Community College System of New Hampshire (CCSNH) has supported apprenticeship expansion since 2016 through its ApprenticeshipNH initiative, bringing together apprentices, employers, and partner organizations—including partners from the K-12 system—to develop apprenticeships in six industry sectors. With a small team of about a dozen full-time staff, ApprenticeshipNH shows how community college intermediaries can work for youth apprenticeship programs in the building trades, and what they need to grow.

"Non-college" pathways don't cut it for many young learners

Apprenticeship is often positioned as a "non-college" education pathway, a characterization that can alienate prospective apprentices interested in pursuing higher education. Parents, too, might be inclined to steer their children away from pathways painted as college alternatives.

But apprenticeships can and often do include college credit and credentials, and community college intermediaries are especially well-suited to designing programs that do so. Existing course offerings, both credit and non-credit, give community colleges a special advantage as intermediaries, according to Anne Banks, CCSNH’s apprenticeship programs manager. “With the community college system,” she says, “we have great flexibility to build both types of coursework, or a combination.” The ability to embed college credit into apprenticeships is an advantage for any occupation, but it can be especially useful in youth-focused programs given student and parents’ concerns about non-college paths.

ApprenticeshipNH’s High School program is a pre-apprenticeship that gives juniors and seniors a head start on Registered Apprenticeships. High school students begin their pathway in the classroom, with career & technical education (CTE) coursework or dual enrollment at local community colleges in sophomore or junior year. After a career exploration phase of job shadowing or internships, students can move into a regular Registered Apprenticeship with advanced standing, sometimes as early as their senior year. Students apply through the same website that hosts ApprenticeshipNH’s adult apprenticeships, and ApprenticeshipNH monitors their progress and delivers support using the same processes.

As intermediaries supporting youth-focused programs, community colleges can help young apprentices get started on the path to a well-paid job earlier—a priority for skilled trades grappling with recruitment troubles. And there’s an additional practical benefit of connecting skilled trades work-based learning to college credit, according to one participant in a series of skilled trades discussion groups we hosted in 2021. “You’re going to come off those tools someday,” said Robert Elliott, dean of manufacturing and maintenance at Trident Technical College in North Charleston, South Carolina. “When you move into a leadership position, those extra years [of class] will benefit you a lot.”

CCs have tools to succeed as intermediaries, but need support

Beyond developing programs, ApprenticeshipNH also conducts stakeholder engagement, bringing in new partner employers and advertising open apprenticeship positions to prospective apprentices. This work “helps to improve the community college system, because we’re learning, and we’re having to engage with employers,” says Banks. “We have advisory boards, but this is an active, mutually beneficial program where colleges and industry can sit down at the table together.”

Regional K-12 systems are also a key stakeholder in youth-focused programs. As we learned from our discussion groups, education and industry stakeholders don’t always see eye to eye, despite a shared interest in expanding youth work-based learning opportunities in the skilled trades. Employers’ doubts about students’ readiness for skilled trades education—and schools’ concerns about employers’ commitment to student well-being—can cause some youth-focused initiatives to sputter. ApprenticeshipNH serves as a translator of industry and educational priorities, monitors apprentice progress, and uses dual enrollment and CTE connections to give young apprentices a streamlined path to completion.

Unions and industry associations will remain key partners in successful skilled trades apprenticeship programs. In light of strong social preferences for college pathways and widespread calls from skilled trades industries to create K-12 connections, however, community colleges are poised to be a crucial part of the conversation about youth work-based learning in the skilled trades. ApprenticeshipNH has had early success as an apprenticeship intermediary for skilled trades as well as nontraditional occupations like IT and healthcare, serving youth apprentices as well as adults. But the team’s experience also highlights the most important challenge community colleges intermediaries face: securing regular, long-term funding.

Apart from small charitable grants that help connect some apprentices to social services, ApprenticeshipNH is entirely funded by federal grants from the U.S. Department of Labor. Even with ApprenticeshipNH’s early successes across youth apprenticeships and conventional, adult-focused programs in traditional and nontraditional industries, it’s still a work in progress. Community colleges can excel as apprenticeship intermediaries, especially when youth are involved. But it will take time, lots of behind-the-scenes work, and considerable, consistent public investment.

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Related Topics
Workforce Development & CTE Youth Apprenticeship